October 2014: The irony of technology: It makes life simpler only by making it more complicated.
With that bit of philosophy stated, Disney’s new FastPass+ system, which is an improvement over the old Fast Pass process, now forces park visitors to plan ahead. Guests must make decisions before arrival to maximize success.
You can still arrive, explore lands, take unplanned turns and discover rides at your leisure, but you’ll wait in a lot more lines. Your more-organized park cohorts have already downloaded apps, figured out software systems, and made hard decisions on their must-see attractions for the day.
That’s not a criticism of FastPass+. As Disney promised, it improves a park visit for organized guests.
It’s more a criticism of technology itself, and how the wonderful families who go on vacation to relax – to explore a land, discover rides and make spur-of-the-moment decisions – are now left in the dust.
With that brief editorial out of the way – based partly on nostalgia for a simpler way of life – here’s the best way to succeed under Disney’s FastPass+ system. However, an important note: The rules can and will change. They system allows Disney to flip a switch to affect resort-wide changes. The company is also in a learning stage.
Tactics to maximize FastPass+ use
1. When to book a Fast Pass: Short answer: As early as possible.
Currently, guests with a Disney hotel reservation have the edge. It’s a perk of staying in a Disney resort. Disney’s annual passholders have a 30-day window to book a Fast Pass, giving them a smaller advantage. (Note: The actual days are vague because A) I don’t know all the deals Disney offers, and B) the intricacy of the system allows Disney to offer a bunch of different deals to different groups. It could, for example, allow convention attendees to book a year in advance if it chooses to do so during convention negotiations.)
2. Arriving without Fast Passes: Immediately go to the nearest kiosk (check the park map) to get your three Fast Passes for the day. All can be booked at one time and from one location. Each Fast Pass has a one-hour window, such as 10:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. Currently, a Disney cast member stands nearby to help with questions.
3. How to book Fast Passes: Today (because Disney could change it), you book three passes at once. You can book additional Fast Passes later after the time scheduled for the last Fast Pass in the original booking. Specifically, that’s A) after you’ve enjoyed that third ride, or B) after the hour window has passed if you nixed it for some reason, such as opting to go to another park. (The system knows your Fast Pass options at other parks. Scary, huh?
Once you’re eligible for a fourth or later Fast Pass, you must go to one of the kiosks in a park (Smartphone bookings don’t work after three) and select one more ride. After that, the same rules apply for booking a fifth ride: You can only do so after Ride No. 4 is ridden or the time has expired.)
4. FastPass+ tactics: There are three depending on personal circumstances:
- On traditional slow days, book the top three rides you wish to enjoy.
- On semi-busy days, book three rides known to have long wait times, but enjoy other rides a la carte.
- On really busy days (December holidays, etc.) maximize Fast Pass rides and run to a kiosk the moment you’ve completed your three-ride obligation. See No. 5 for more on this one.
5. FastPass+ best practices: This may not shorten walking, but the best tactic is to book three Fast Pass rides as early in the day as possible. If you have three Fast Pass experiences under your belt by, say, 11:30 a.m., there’s a good chance other want-to-do attractions will offer Fast Pass admission later in the day. In a perfect world, you can repeat this more than once. Note of caution, however: The most popular rides sell out of Fast Passes, and many can do so before you ever arrive at the park if traveling at a time known for heavy crowds.
One more note: Disney issues plastic cards that can be swiped at kiosks and rides – your proof of admission for a Fast Pass short line. Alternately, you can purchase a MagicBand that works the same way. MagicBand’s have other uses, but they offer no advantage specific to Fast Passes, beyond the ability to avoid dragging a card out of your wallet to board an attraction.